Will Canadians allow the violation of their Charter rights to become the ‘new normal?’
Editor’s note: Author Chris McGarry challenges the ‘new normal’ that sees the diminishment of rights and freedoms in the name of safety and security. He notes that Canadian generations past set such safety and security aside to fight, bleed and die for these same rights on our behalf. It all prompts the question, are we not obligated to honour their sacrifice by rejecting the ‘new normal’ that doesn’t?
Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s quote “Never allow a crisis to go to waste” – a reference to the financial meltdown of 2008 – has been immortalized in popular culture and frequently ascribed to by the media and politicians as a way of criticizing the methods used by their political opponents.
To those of you who’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the Charter violations which have occurred over the past few months during this COVID-19 crisis, you might be tempted to believe that many Canadian politicians were purposely using Mr. Emanuel’s quote as an instructional manual to beef up their own little bully pulpits and embark on extensive power trips. Sadly, you weren’t wrong.
While citizens should expect nothing less of their elected officials to install sensible (albeit temporary) precautions in extraordinary times such as this global pandemic, the fact that our governments enacted extreme overreaching measures that spit in the face of everything our ancestors ever fought and bled and died for should be of great concern any Canadian who values liberty and sees the proverbial writing on the wall with regards to the decline of freedom in this country.
Fining Canadian citizens for doing nothing more than going for a walk in the park. Forcing much of the healthy population to ‘shelter in place’ inside their homes for long periods. Street checks in our major cities that had the eerie feeling of ‘papers, please,’ checkpoints of Nazi Germany and the former Eastern Bloc countries where the movements of citizens were heavily restricted and continually monitored. Bringing in the largest gun grab in the nation’s history without any debate whatsoever in the House of Commons. A constant bombardment of media and government whoopla (or, depending on your point of view, misinformation or even indoctrination) that would frighten the bejesus out of George Orwell. While this period of outright stressful insanity was overly unnerving in and among itself, the fact that so many of our fellow citizens simply shrugged their shoulders and accepted it as the ‘new normal’ makes one wonder if our society isn’t on the road to tyranny.
“Our new normal.” There’s a phrase that has been tossed around a lot lately. Scour the comments sections of many Canadian newspapers and you’ll be horrified by the low – information, propagandized souls who’ve meekly accepted this perversion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the new normal.
And to add a heaping dose of irony to the mix, much of Canadian society took little notice of the fact that this descent into despotism took place during the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, a horrible conflict my grandfather and many men of his generation fought in so that their descendants would not live under tyrannical, oppressive regimes. And here we are, three generations later, lamenting about the state of freedom and democracy in Canada, or, more specifically, the appalling lack thereof.
So, what happened over the past three-quarters of a century? It’s no secret that Canada and the Western World as a whole are very different places than they were in 1945. The roles of our institutions, namely, government, media, and education, have also undergone drastic changes over the past 75 years. With the rise of liberal progressivism and the all-encompassing welfare state, many Canadians have a favorable view of government and place a considerable amount of trust in the actions of elected officials as well as unelected bureaucrats. Frighteningly enough, a sizable portion of the population has so much faith in the State that they are willing to overlook the gross injustices that these politicians and the bureaucracy are committing, violations of human rights like free speech, assembly, democracy and due process that are simply intolerable. Giving up essential liberty for a tiny bit of temporary security means you’ll eventually end up with neither. History is rife with examples of cultures where people willingly gave up their freedoms in exchange for what they perceived as safety and security. Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
Furthermore, many citizens fail to take action against the infringement of their hard-fought constitutional rights and freedoms due to not having a strong understanding of them. That is why – in my humble opinion – civics and history courses should be mandatory for students in junior and senior high school. To put it bluntly, if you don’t know your rights, you don’t have any.
Getting back to the issue at hand, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, most of the rights contained within were either dishonored or outright desecrated during the lockdowns that took place across the country. For those of us with ancestors who fought in both World Wars and cherish our vanishing freedoms, all we could do was shake our heads at the sight of so many of our fellow countrymen and women easily giving away their liberties for a virus that, while certainly deadly enough, has, according to Carol Brown, a fatality rate no worse than the seasonl flu. The burning question remains, “Will Canadians stand up to preserve their rights and freedoms?”
While this crisis has been marred by mind-numbing apathy and even a willingness to embrace encroaching government tyranny, there have been many signs that Canadians are beginning to realize that their freedom is precious. While I do not ascribe to the often outlandish conspiracy theories that roam the World Wide Web regarding the supposed purpose of COVID-19 as a plan to usher in a global government, I, like many Canadians, believe that a lot of the restrictions imposed by our federal and provincial governments were unnecessary as well as unconstitutional.
And for those who are eager to accept these restrictions as their ‘new normal’, I urge these people to open a history book.
About the author: Chris McGarry is a freelance writer, professional journalist and author who lives in Belfast, Prince Edward Island.